Formerly it was held, preached, and written, that the diversity of meats and the like ceremonies instituted by men, were useful, in order to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sin. Hence new fasts, new ceremonies, new orders, and the like, were daily devised, strenuously insisted upon, as if they were necessary services to God, and that grace might be merited if they were observed, while to neglect them would be considered a great sin. From this many scandalous errors originated in the church.

In the first place, the grace of Christ and the doctrine concerning faith were by this means obscured, which doctrine with great solemnity the Gospel inculcates, and it insists with earnestness that the merits of Christ should be highly and dearly esteemed, and that it should be known that faith in Christ is to be placed far above all works. St. Paul, for this reason, inveighs bitterly against the Mosaic law and human traditions, in order to teach us, that we are not justified before God by our works, but alone through faith in Christ, and that we obtain grace for Christ’s sake. This doctrine was almost entirely suppressed, by teaching that grace must be merited by the observance of laws, by fasts, and by diversities of meats and dress.

Secondly, such traditions even obscured the command of God. For men elevated these traditions far above his command. Those alone were believed to live as Christians, who observed these holidays, and prayed, and fasted, and dressed in a peculiar manner, which was styled a spiritual, Christian life.

Moreover, other good works were regarded as worldly and sensuous, namely, those which each one according to his vocation, is under obligation to do: as, a father laboring to support his wife and children, and bringing them up in the fear of God; a mother bearing children and attending to them; a prince and other authorities ruling the country and the people, &c. Such works commanded of God, were considered a mere worldly and imperfect matter; but these traditions were honored with the unmerited title of holy and perfect works. For these reasons there was neither limit nor end of such traditions.

Thirdly, these traditions became exceedingly oppressive to the consciences of men. For it is not possible to observe all traditions, and yet the people were of opinion that they are necessary services to God. And Gerson asserts in his writings that by this many were driven to despair, and some put an end to their own existence, because they did not hear the consolation of the grace of Christ. For, how the consciences of men were entangled is seen from the Summists and the theologians, who attempted to sum up the traditions, and sought in order to assist those consciences. So entirely were they engrossed in this, that in the meantime the salutary Christian doctrines of subjects more important, of faith, of consolation in affliction, and the like, were totally neglected. Accordingly many excellent men of those times complained that these traditions excited much contention in the church, and by that means prevented pious men from attaining the true knowledge of Christ. Gerson and several others have uttered bitter complaints on this subject. And it also met the displeasure of Augustine, that men encumbered their consciences with so many traditions; on this subject therefore he advises that they should not be regarded as necessary things.

*The word Epieikeia properly signifies: equity, moderation, forbearance, reasonable condescension. This word was employed by the monks, to express the mitigation of the rigor of the precepts or traditions. –[ Trans.

Wherefore, we did not treat on these matters, through malice or in contempt of ecclesiastical power, but necessity required instruction concerning the errors aforementioned, which had grown out of the misapprehension of these traditions. For the Gospel insists, that the doctrine concerning faith should and must be inculcated in churches; which cannot, however, be understood where the opinion prevails that men merit grace by works of their own contrivance. And with respect to this subject, it is taught that no one is able, by the observance of such human traditions, to merit grace or to reconcile God, or to atone for sins; and for this reason no necessary service of God should be made out of them. Reasons in addition are produced from Scripture. Christ excuses the Apostles for not observing the usual traditions, saying, Matt. 15, 3-9: “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Now as he calls this a vain service, it cannot be necessary. And immediately afterwards he says, verse 11: “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man.” Again, Paul says, Rom. 14, 17: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink.” Col. 2, 16-20, “Let no man, therefore, judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy-day,” &c. Peter says, Acts 15, 10, 11: “Why tempt ye God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” Here Peter forbids that the consciences of men should be burdened any further with external ceremonies, either with those of Moses or of others. And 1 Tim. 4, 1-3, those prohibitions which forbid meats and matrimony are called “doctrines of devils.” For it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel, either to institute or perform such works for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins, or to do so under the impression that no one can be a Christian without these services.

The charge, however, alleged against us, that we forbid discipline and mortification of the flesh, as Jovinian did, is disproved by our writings. For we have ever given instruction concerning the holy cross, which Christians are under obligation to bear; and this is a true, sincere, not a fictitious mortification. Moreover it is taught in like manner, that every Christian is under obligation to restrain himself by bodily exercise, as fasting and other exercises, so that he give no occasion to sin, – not meriting grace however by these works. This bodily exercise should be urged not only on certain fixed days, but continually. On this subject Christ says, Luke 21, 34, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting.” Again, Matt. 17, 21, “The devils are not cast out but by fasting and prayer.” And Paul says, 1 Cor. 9, 27, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” By this he shows that mortification is designed, not for the purpose of meriting grace, but for the purpose of keeping the body in a suitable condition, that it may not impede what each one according to his calling is commanded to perform; and thus fasting is not rejected, but the making of a necessary service out of it, upon fixed days, and with particular meats, to the confusion of the consciences of men.

Many ceremonies and traditions are likewise observed by us; such as mass, singing of hymns, festivals, &c., which are calculated to promote order in the church. But relative to this subject the people are instructed, that such external service does not make them pious before God, and that it should be observed without encumbering their consciences, so that if any one omit it without giving offence, he does not sin in that case. This freedom in external ceremonies the ancient Fathers likewise retained. For in the East, the festival of Easter was held at a different time from that at Rome; and when some were disposed to consider this want of uniformity as a division in the church, they were reminded by others, that it was not necessary to observe uniformity in such things. And thus says Irenæus: “A difference of fasts does not destroy the agreement in matters of faith.” So also in Distinct. 12, it is written concerning the want of uniformity in human ordinances, that it is not contrary to the unity of Christendom. And Tripartita Historia, lib. 9, sums up many dissimilar church customs, and forms a useful Christian maxim: It was not the intention of the Apostles to institute holidays, but to teach faith and charity.”